Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 96 – ‘Adoption’

Our heroine

Our heroine

“Adoption” is one classic scene after another, but my favorite moment is Donna’s showdown with Bonnie, the barfly who’s been sleeping with Ray. The dialogue from scriptwriter Howard Lakin is wonderfully bitchy, and Susan Howard delivers it with steely aplomb. I also have to hand it to guest star Lindsay Bloom, who manages to make Bonnie seem less like a vixen than a sad woman who makes bad choices.

The confrontation begins when Donna, clad in a full-length fur coat, enters the Longview bar and approaches Bonnie, whom Donna caught in bed with Ray at the end of the previous episode. After exchanging unpleasantries (“I wanted to see what the competition looked like – with clothes on”), Donna offers Bonnie $5,000 to leave town. “You’re crazy,” Bonnie says. Donna keeps upping the price; by the time she reaches $15,000, Bonnie is ready to pack her bags. That’s when Donna reduces her offer by a third. “Now that we know what you are, let’s haggle over your fee,” she says. Before all is said and done, Bonnie has tossed a drink in Donna’s face and Donna has struck Bonnie, sending her to the sawdust-covered floor.

It might be tempting to think of this as another soap opera catfight, but that wouldn’t do the scene justice. To begin with, Donna isn’t your typical “Dallas” heroine. She’s the show’s most consistently admirable character – always strong, always smart, always sincere. When we see Donna throw that punch, we know it’s not out of desperation. She’s fighting for Ray because she wants him, not because she needs him.

Howard deserves much credit for making her character so believable. Like Barbara Bel Geddes, Howard possesses an effortless grace; both actresses seem to have good instincts and are smart enough to trust them. And while I generally try to avoid commenting on the physical appearance of “Dallas” actors, this must be said: Howard is one of the most naturally beautiful women to ever appear on the show, and that’s another reason Donna seems like the kind of person you might know in real life. It also doesn’t hurt that Howard is an honest-to-goodness Texan, so she sounds as authentic as she looks. In the scene with Bonnie, notice how Donna’s line, “You mean go to you?” becomes “Yew mean go to yew?” The lilting drawl is almost hypnotic.

Fur Love or Money

Armor on

Armor on

Of course, as good as Howard is, don’t overlook her character’s fur coat, an essential “Dallas” prop if ever there was one. Larry Hagman, who directed this episode, does a smart thing earlier in “Adoption” when he shows Donna coming home and changing into the fur before heading to the Longview to confront Bonnie. This deliberate wardrobe change lets the audience know two things: Donna isn’t ashamed to be seen as a successful woman, and like her in-laws, she’s willing to use her wealth to intimidate an adversary.

(You might also say Donna’s clash with Bonnie is the moment she becomes a Ewing. After Donna strikes her rival, she retrieves a wad of cash from her coat pocket, peels off a bill and tosses it onto the bar. “Drinks are on Bonnie,” she says. It brings to mind the great scene from the second-season episode “Reunion, Part 2,” when Jock “buys” Pam from drunken Digger.)

As for Bloom: With her frosted bouffant and western shirts, the actress looks a bit like the country singer Barbara Mandrell, which is fitting since Donna and Bonnie’s showdown has the makings of a great country song. It would’ve been easy for Bonnie to come off as a one-note hussy, but Bloom’s performance is so nicely measured, that never happens. Lakin deserves credit here too. At the beginning of the fight scene, before Donna enters the bar, we overhear Bonnie chatting excitedly with one of her girlfriends about a new nightclub in town that has “two dance floors, one raised above the other.” The line makes us realize what a small life Bonnie leads. How can you not pity her?

Into Darkness

Shouldn't he be on the other side?

Shouldn’t he be on the other side?

Like Donna and Bonnie’s barroom brawl, almost all of the great scenes in “Adoption” arouse conflicting emotions. In the first act, J.R. has Ray tossed in the Braddock County jail, where he pressures him to sign over his Ewing Oil voting shares. Harsh? Yes, but is J.R. mistaken when he tells Ray how ashamed Jock would feel by Ray’s recent behavior?

Similarly, how do you feel at the end of the episode, when Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and tells him their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” Are you relieved that Sue Ellen has been reminded of her ex-husband’s sinful nature? Or are you disappointed that their reconciliation has been derailed? I feel both.

“Adoption” also offers the memorable moment when Roger, Lucy’s stalker, becomes enraged and smashes a glass of red wine against the wall of his photography studio, which he has plastered with her pictures. We’ve all seen variations of this scene in dozens of other movies and TV shows about stalkers, but I bet it didn’t seem like a cliché when this episode debuted 30 years ago. Regardless, the shot – and the chilling background music from composer Richard Lewis Warren that accompanies it – still creeps me out.

For every dark moment in “Adoption,” there’s a scene to remind us of the loving connections the Ewings share. At the top of the hour, Miss Ellie finds Donna picking up the dishes she smashed in anger after discovering Ray’s infidelity. “Over the years, I’ve thrown a few plates myself,” Ellie says. Later, Sue Ellen and Pam have a heart-to-heart of their own at Pam’s aerobics studio, where she cautions Sue Ellen about getting back together with J.R.

There’s also the sweet scene where Bobby tells Pam they’ve been granted temporary custody of Christopher, as well as the nice moment when J.R. brings surprise dinner guests Sue Ellen and John Ross into the Southfork kitchen to sample Miss Ellie’s stuffing. (“Adoption” was originally broadcast in February 1982 and isn’t a Thanksgiving episode, but the presence of that giant turkey in Ellie’s kitchen makes it the closest we ever get to seeing the Ewings celebrate the holiday.)

More and more, I’m convinced warm moments like these are one of the secrets of “Dallas’s” success. They help counter the misperception that this is merely the story of rich people behaving badly. The truth is, “Dallas” is a show with a lot heart. If it wasn’t, we never would have allowed it to occupy such a big place in ours.

Grade: A+

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Father's day

Father’s day

‘ADOPTION’

Season 5, Episode 19

Airdate: February 19, 1982

Audience: 29.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Howard Lakin

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. has him jailed, Ray signs over his voting shares in Ewing Oil. Donna punches Bonnie and orders her to stay away from Ray. Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Christopher is Kristin’s son, reminding Sue Ellen of J.R.’s past infidelities. Bobby and Pam are awarded preliminary custody of Christopher. Cliff figures out J.R.’s scheme to lure him out of Dallas.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lindsay Bloom (Bonnie), Vivian Bonnell (clerk), Robert Alan Browne (Breslin), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Ron Tomme (Charles Eccles), Herb Vigran (Judge Thornby), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

“Adoption” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Great review. I was very surprised by Donna’s actions in the episode, but I loved how she fought for her man! And she did prove herself a strong Ewing woman. Lots of excellent scenes in this one. And that picture of Patrick Duffy and the baby is gorgeous! 😀

  2. Margaret Krebbs says:

    Donna always had an edge, a little bit of what I call “Donnatude. It’s what keeps the character from becoming completely self-righteous. She was married to the Governor of Texas, so she had to be able to hold her own, I’m sure.

    I liked Bonnie and agree with you that the actor makes her somewhat complex and sympathetic. I like that Bonnie doesn’t become another spurned lover psycho killer as so many female ex’s on the show did.

    In a different Ewingverse, this is exactly the type of woman Ray would have ended up with. I wish Bonnie had stuck around a while longer so JR could have used her and thrown her away.

    • I always love your feedback, Ms. Krebbs. What a great idea — a J.R. and Bonnie pairing. And “Ewingverse” is fantastic. I use that term too sometimes.

      Thank you for commenting!

  3. I loved this episode. Donna’s scene in the bar is classic, perhaps her character’s greatest moment (as far as I’ve seen so far through season 7). Donna is a smart character who isn’t ashamed of who she is. She has a fierce determination that I find very appealing. The scene with J.R. and Ray in jail is good too. And I love that Donna and Miss Ellie bonded over breaking dishes. Very good critique.

    • Yep, this might be my favorite Donna moment too. Susan Howard is always fun to watch, and especially in this scene.

      Thanks for commenting dear!

      • I too like the fact that Bonnie is a real person not just a slutty vixen trying to get her claws into Donna’s man. I was so relieved that Sue Ellen was reminded of JR’s villainy. But why does she need to be reminded? I wish instead of always screaming at JR she would just tell him truthfully that his behavior caused her a great deal of pain and it is behavior she can never forgive or tolerate in the future. I wish she would ask him if he claims to care about her why does he deliberately act in ways that he knows will hurt her.

      • Sue Ellen and J.R. could use a nice, long talk, couldn’t they?

  4. Donna Krebbs is a political machiavelli & smart woman. An exact copy of J.R. but in politics & not business! This is why she’s a superb foil 4 Hagman & can help husband Ray keep his head on straight as she’s stronger than he is!

  5. This is my favorite episode from Season 5! It’s chocked full of goodness!

  6. I love this episode. This is one that cemented my personal connection with Ray Krebs. I see so much of myself in that character. We both have an agricultural/country backgrounds. We both feel out of our element amongst successful people. And specific to this episode we both tend to get a tad self-destructive as a form of self-punishment. I never for a moment believed that Ray didn’t want Donna. I suspect there aren’t too many that would have believed that. It was even said on screen an episode or two prior that Ray was pushing Donna away simply because he didn’t feel good enough for her. Now I’ve never cheated on someone I was with. (But that might because I’m extremely anti-social and don’t hang out in environments were cheating opportunities exist in the first place.) But I have been in dark ruts were I tried to push people away from me. Okay I never said I shared Ray’s good traits but I do share traits with him. That makes him the non-headliner that I can relate to and root for.
    I also love the way Donna fights for him. Now that is love pure and simple. It sure is hard to take their subsequent divorce when she is so willing to fight for him despite his flaws here. I personally like to believe this would have been the one Dallas relationship that would have went the distance had Howard not fallen on the outs in the Capice/Katzman power change.
    The other thing I love about this episode is that we see Cliff win a second straight victory over JR. While not quite as satisfying as the time he “finally whipped JR Ewing” it is up there. Not only had he seen through JR’s scheme but he clearly got deep under his skin as he declared his intention to marry Sue Ellen. Very few people ever got to JR at quite that level.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas’s” fifth-season episode “Adoption,” Donna (Susan Howard), wearing a fur coat, enters the Longview and approaches Bonnie (Lindsay […]

  2. […] ace sous chef, while J.R. (Larry Hagman) and the rest of the Ewings were happy to serve as Mama’s taste-testers. For the real heavy lifting, though, Ellie relied on the hired help. The Ewings went through […]

  3. […] “Adoption” is one classic scene after another. Donna socks it to Bonnie. Bobby asks Sue Ellen to sign the affidavit. Sue Ellen tosses the necklace at J.R. and proclaims their relationship is “sick, sick, sick!” This is another great script from Howard Lakin, but don’t overlook Hagman, who sat in the director’s chair for this episode and once again proved he’s as gifted behind the camera as he is in front of it. […]

  4. […] history with Ray, including her affair with him during her marriage to Sam Culver and when she rescued Ray from depression after Jock’s […]

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